I may frequently express criticisms about their finer workings but British museums and galleries are generally superbly run. Heroic efforts are made to minimise the impact of funding cuts so that even regular visitors will notice little or no impact. From looking at the outward face of our museums you would never guess the country was in anything like the mess the numbers would indicate. They open on time: they have excellent facilities; their staffs are visible, willing and helpful; their experts are sought after the world over; they are clean; they have disability access to the ceiling; their bookshelves cater to all types of reader and interest; and their collections are by and large well maintained, sensitively exhibited and most supply informative captions. Many of them have for centuries been kept open free of charge for everyone, often against all odds and arguments. They are exemplary resorts of enlightened thinking about education and the preservation of history. This quiet effectiveness is a substantial achievement which is easy to take for granted. The truth is that when it comes to museums, in Britain we have been spoilt.
This native genius was recognised recently when the Italian Culture Minister announced a fundamental shake-up in his own country’s major museums by throwing open twenty directorships to all-comers. Heading the published lists of dream candidates were many Britons. That Italy desperately needs help running its museums can not be in any doubt in the minds of those who have recently visited that country.
Newspapers have lately reported that Pompeii is at last rising from the ashes of incompetence and corrupt administration. Having been partially rescued from beneath the sludge of AD79, in recent years other man-made ravages have befallen this astounding place – structures have collapsed, excavation has ceased, and the site has been subjected to looting and vandalism. All of that, we are proudly informed, is now in the past. Sanity has set in and the place is safe in Italian hands. Millions